Suspended in a hammock: contextualizing the good news

Hammock
Photo credit: SadieMaeGlutz (Creative Commons)

We have friends in India who are seeing large numbers of both high-caste Hindus and people from other religions become followers of Jesus. They use the sacred books of those religions to point to Christ. When they have clearly demonstrated Christ within those books, they can then point them to the Jesus of the Bible. They are contextualizing the Gospel in a way that makes it understandable to those they are trying to reach.

There are pointers to Jesus in every culture.

The book, Bruchko, describes the extraordinary story of 19 year-old Bruce Olson, who sought to bring the Gospel to a murderous tribe in the South American jungle. These people had no words in their language that could express some of the concepts of a belief in Jesus. Bruce used some remarkably creative ways to bring across these ideas.

For example, there was no word to express "faith" in the Motilone language. The Indians used to sleep on hammocks suspended from the rafters of their communal homes. The best word for faith that Bruce found was the word that meant to "tie in one's hammock." It beautifully expresses faith as suspending one's life from Christ and the people instinctively understood its meaning.

Some years ago we started a church in the low income housing projects. One day, a good friend from England, Norman Barnes, visited. He clearly demonstrated the efficacy of the blood of Christ in forgiving sins to our friends there. He had them each write down the things they had done that were bad, that they were ashamed of, or issues they dealt with like anger, onto a sheet of paper. When each one had completed their list, they put their papers into a pan. He covered it with a red cloth symbolizing the blood of Jesus. He took the pan outside, removed the cloth and set fire to the paper. Then he asked them to pull their sins out of the pan. Of course, they were just ash.

The kids talked about how the blood of Jesus dealt with their sins for weeks after that. Every time a person wore something red they would remind each other: "She's wearing red: do you remember how the blood of Jesus covers the things we've done wrong."

How can we contextualize the good news for the people we come across day by day? How can this be used to reach out to other cultures too?

2 thoughts on “Suspended in a hammock: contextualizing the good news”

  1. I really like the ideas you’re sharing here, Felicity.
    Do you have any examples of applying this in modern Western cultures? Seems to me there’s a great need for deep insights that will provide specific ‘keys’ that can unlock particular concepts for particular groups of people.
    Once you start thinking along these lines it becomes obvious that Jesus did the same thing in his parables. He alluded to fishing, farming, cooking, storing wine, repairing clothes and much more.
    Great stuff!

    Like

  2. Chris, I’m sure there must be many modern applications depending on the group we’re working in. One that comes immediately to mind is the concept of networking/going viral (yeast in dough). And you’re right. Jesus contextualized his message all the time, although I’ve often wondered why he didn’t tell any carpentry stories.

    Like

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